The return of Middledorp
Following the firing of Giovanni Solinas, Kaizer Chiefs wasted little time in appointing his replacement Ernst Middendorp, a man who was never a fan-favourite during his first stint with Amakhosi just over a decade ago. In as much as the German is expected to show signs of improvement at Chiefs, there is no guarantee he will win silverware this term at a club bordering on desperation as they battle to restore their identity and former glory. KICK OFF’s Lovemore Moyo investigates just why the club settled for their former German tactician.
Ernst Middendorp is definitely not a favourite amongst many fans in South African domestic football, but he somehow always finds himself in line for a job at the blink of an eye whenever a coaching vacancy opens up in the PSL. Those who have worked with the German will attest to how organised, disciplined and professional he is in performing his duties despite not always delivering on the crucial results column. He is now back for his second stint at Kaizer Chiefs, having had three spells with Maritzburg United while also guarding the dugout at Free State Stars, Bloemfontein Celtic, Chippa United and Golden Arrows since his first arrival on the domestic scene in 2005. Also sandwiched between his first and latest foray with Chiefs were jobs in Germany, China and Thailand, where he had been working as a technical advisor at Bangkok United over the last two years. It would appear Middendorp indeed has something unique to offer, judging by how club bosses always turn to him in times of need regardless of his record. While the majority feel results determine what makes a good coach, it seems Amakhosi’s management chose a different train of thought in hiring a coach with a mediocre record in the PSL, which explains why his appointment wasn’t greeted with much enthusiasm. Yet Chiefs manager Bobby Motaung was quick to stand up for the club’s decision to rope in the German for a second time. “Anything we do, and anything we announce, you will find two sides to the story,” Motaung said. “There is always a positive and negative – it all depends on which one you want to follow and rely on. I prefer to focus on the positives. We felt we needed a coach with a high pedigree and fortunately the coach has the character and personality to take this ship forward and back to where it belongs. As a club we respect the fans and these changes have been made to satisfy the supporters. The supporters have the right to be selfish. It was a no-brainer to think of Ernst in this situation in the middle of the season. We didn’t want to compromise the team and the coach which is why we settled for a coach who has knowledge of the club. There has to be a connection between the coach and the players.” Motaung says the club would have faced criticism regardless of who they brought in as Giovanni Solinas’ successor. “Even if I brought [Jose] Mourinho or Sir Alex [Ferguson], some would say he is old and all that,” he said. “There is criticism every-
where, so we welcome all the negativity, but the results will show. We are comfortable bringing Ernst in because we have experience with him. We know his pedigree and his work ethic. The coach understands the South African mentality. He is back home now and even with issues of the past, our supporters are forgiving because they love the club. The past is gone because 2007 and 2018 is a big gap and supporters are looking forward to positive energy and results.”
Worth noting is what Middendorp has done in the PSL. Though he has been with six clubs locally, he has only been able to start and finish a season with the same club just twice, doing so during his first year with Amakhosi and then at Maritzburg United during the 2012/13 campaign. He finished third with Chiefs and eleventh with the Team of Choice in those two seasons. In the 2014/15 campaign, he won just four and lost 13 of the 25 games he took charge of at Celtic and Chippa, and was already in a new tracksuit at Free State Stars within a month of the next season starting. His most productive years in the PSL were in his first spell at Chiefs where he won the 2006 Absa Cup and SAA Supa8, winning 31 of the 67 games he was in charge of between August 2005 and March 2007, with the sceptical reaction of the fans upon his recent appointment surely justified based on such numbers. Yet Middendorp himself is unconcerned. “I think a supporter should be selfish because he wants results,” the German said. “I have a clear understanding of the fact that supporters want results. This is nothing new. If the results are coming with a certain performance, then we will be going in the right direction and that is what I’m hoping for. What I can promise is that I will prepare the team to perform to their maximum. You should never underestimate any team in this league if you want to be successful. I don’t think it needs to be mentioned specifically that points must come. There is no doubt about it and I’m aware of it. The team has been feeling the pressure of the past weeks when they were not successful, so it shouldn’t be a matter of jumping in and hammering them. We don’t need to be overloading.” Middendorp says his vast experience of the local league puts him in good stead in his second stint at Naturena. “Coming into the country in 2005 and not knowing the environment at a club like this, you discover something new every day,” he said. “I now have the background information because I never stopped observing the PSL. Every time I was here, I would go to the stadium. The background is important. On the other side, I have confidence and I know what I’m doing. In addition, you have a squad that hasn’t really shown its potential, but I’m aware of what the players can do, so returning with background information is definitely an advantage compared to 2005.” Only Itumeleng Khune survives from the Chiefs squad Middendorp first took charge of, with the German having now adopted a team struggling for consistency and drowning in mediocrity, where reaching a cup semi-final is now worthy of being mentioned as an achievement. A dozen years have passed since Middendorp’s last spell with the Glamour Boys, meaning a number of changes both on and off the field, as the German highlights just how crucial having a functional technical team will be in executing his duties as the head coach. “The soccer industry in terms of managing a team is different now to what it was in 2007,” he said. “In the last team I was working with in Bangkok, we had 15 technical team members with everyone having their own responsibilities – this is the normal way these days. From this point, it is very important for the club to have technical team members with pedigree. The entire technical team needs to be connected. These days teams spend a lot of money on, for example, GPS. It is no longer a one-man show and everyone has to come in and contribute instead of running away. These days we have the GPS that informs what decisions must be made, which is a different dynamic to what happened 12 years ago.” Middendorp will have Shaun Bartlett, who played under the German at Chiefs over a decade ago, as his right-hand man, with the duo fully aware of the tough task at hand in resurrecting the club’s ailing record.
“THE COACH HAS THE CHARACTER AND PERSONALITY TO TAKE THIS SHIP FORWARD AND BACK TO WHERE IT BELONGS.”